How Much Snarking Is Okay?

How Much Snarking Is Okay?


I will be pretty honest and say that I have quite the structured and well managed house, in terms of my pets. Nearly all of my critters have some sort of special need that requires some management or structure to mitigate and make our home run so smoothly.  One of the things that I don’t overly manage, however, are when my dogs voice displeasure with one another or the cats.  As long as it is appropriate and not over the top, I am perfectly fine with them grumbling, growling, or making yucky faces at each other as they negotiate living together.

Canine disagreements are going to happen in a multi-dog or multi-animal home.  What type and how much of a tolerance a guardian has for these events will largely depend on the individuals involved and their history together.

I want Shayne to be able to tell Rio, “Nobody’s gonna get a finger on my Butterfingers!” by posturing, snarling, and showing her teeth, if he is trying to sneak in and steal her bullystick.  I am 100% okay with Shayne telling Rio off by whipping back and snapping at him when he humps her.  I want Rio to stand up for himself by giving a quick growl or stare when the nosey Shayne comes around to his not-yet-empty food bowl or towel with food.  I’m also more than happy when Rio snarks at Loki for being an obnoxious puppy.  I allow as much freedom to disagree/snark/discuss as I do because I am comfortable that no one will escalate the disagreement beyond some words and posturing.

I personally draw the line at scuffles.  I do not want my dogs scuffling (with no injuries) over things–I do not want my dogs practicing that behavior because anything practiced will get stronger.  They can growl, they can grumble, they can air snap, they can posture, but if they get in a scuffle, it’s done.  I’ve been a very lucky pet parent in that I’ve never had a scuffle in my house. I think a big part of this has to do with the particular dogs in my house– Rio, who I’ve never seen get into a scuffle with anyone and Shayne, who I’ve never seen get into a scuffle with any dog she knows well (with the exception of one dog who has similar issues to her and both girls got a bit freaked out).   But I think another part of this is that I do allow them to discuss things so it doesn’t just explode into a scuffle or fight–they have learned that they can resolve issues with other bits of communication and have boundaries with each other so they don’t need to throw-down.

It’s a slight tangent from the topic of snarking, but I think it’s relevant– I absolutely do not allow any bullying.  If a dog is trying to bully or push around another specific target in the house, I always step in.  When Loki first arrived he was picking on Bandit all the time.  I was not going to let Bandit be bullied in his own home by a puppy.  Although he tried to tell the puppy off, Loki was a bit of a snot and wouldn’t quit so I started stepping in and every time Loki tried to bully Bandit, Loki was put on a leash or given a time out in his xpen.  Letting them “work it out” would have either resulted in a big fight, likely with Bandit on the losing end, or Bandit being bullied until Loki left.  They wouldn’t have “worked it out” in any positive manner so I wasn’t going to let Loki rehearse that behavior..

The level of snarking I allow with my own dogs is absolutely not appropriate for other situations with other dogs.

If I had dogs that had a history of fights or scuffles in one very specific situation–resource guarding of specific items, redirected frustration when visitors arrive, redirected aggression when on leash, or if there is fence fighting, I would be managing these situations very strictly–putting resources away, individual outside trips, separate gating/crating when visitors arrive, etc..  I would be doing whatever sort of management was warranted to prevent the dogs from getting into scuffles or fights in the specific situations but would otherwise be allowing them to have discussions about things.  I may be more aware of their discussions and step in earlier if I felt things going down hill, but if their scuffles had been limited to a single specific situation, I’d give them some leeway.

If I had dogs with a history of scuffles in a variety of situations or a single or very rare fight, I would be more strictly managing situations to prevent rehearsing those unwanted behaviors.  This would likely mean limiting the amount and type of discussions dogs could have.  I wouldn’t allow the type of behaviors that lead to a scuffle–for some dogs it may be humping, or posturing, or air snapping.  Whatever typically triggers a scuffle or fight would be off-limits. Learning what triggers conflict is extremely important to this, if I didn’t know what triggered the conflict, I’d have to be more cautious.  Ultimately I want to prevent the scuffles from happening so they don’t practice that behavior and further damage the relationship.

If my dogs were having full blown fights with blood being drawn, I would be ridiculously strict in my management.   In a house with dogs who have a history of fighting with blood being drawn, I would  not tolerate much of anything in terms of the dogs having discussions–they have already shown that when they discuss things, there is a good chance someone is going to end up bloody.  Personally, if I had dogs who were getting into regular fights, they would be kept separate in any situation where there had been tension and I would be actively be working to resolve the problems.

Lastly, if I were at all uncomfortable with the interactions (or I wasn’t sure where an interaction was heading) I would stop it there, no matter what was going on.  If I were to have a guest dog over who I didn’t know well and there was some growling or posturing going on with Shayne, I would not hesitate to step in and end it.  My discomfort in the situation could affect how I am seeing things and I may second guess myself and let things go when I shouldn’t have, so I tend to say if you aren’t comfortable, just step in and end it.  My mom does not feel comfortable when Rio makes his ugly face (see photo above) to the pestering puppy, so I have told her to step in and put the puppy in his xpen or let Rio outside of the gated rooms if she’s watching the dogs.  It’s okay to step in and end a situation if it is making you feel uncomfortable–better safe than sorry.

So what does it boil down to?

One of the phrases I hear all the time from people is that they want the dogs to “work it out” themselves.  IF the dogs are communicating and working things out without getting into scuffles or fights, I do tend to let the dogs figure things out.  But if things begin to escalate beyond growling and grumbling OR they don’t seem to be making progress, I put a stop to it.  Allowing dogs to “work it out” themselves when that involves scuffles or fights that draw blood, is really not advisable.  The result of this tends to be either a seriously injured dog or a dog who is bullied and picked on in their own home–neither of which is okay.


**These are not necessarily a rule of thumb for everyone in all situations but how I (would) handle various situations and set limits to snarking or disagreements.  Always err on the side of caution to keep all the dogs/pets safe!

  1. I’ve never been in a multiple-dog household, but I have had house-guest dogs, and have been lucky enough that they have all been capable of the type of snarking/discussion that your dogs exhibit, without escalating. At the dog park, however, Gwynn occasionally finds dogs to bully, and I have to step in. I try to take him out of the park as soon as I see him heading towards the excitement level where he starts barking, which inevitably leads to him finding some dog and harassing it relentlessly (and preferably with a buddy, just to make matters worse for the harassed dog). I regularly hear people tell me, in those situations to ‘let them sort it out amongst themselves’, and all I can think is, how is it the owner of the BULLYING dog that has the most issue with this situation? your dog is unhappy, YOU should be removing your dog from this situation!

  2. When Sunshine was a puppy she had a BIG problem with resource guarding. She was a fur covered skeleton so it just figures. But it didn’t work out well because then Daisy would take issue with the puppy (sunshine) being so possessive. I was so disturbed by the scuffles that I got a trainer to work with them. She said it was all noise and Daisy wasn’t hurting Sunshine but it was loud and sounded vicious. She told me to put Daisy in time out when she took it on herself to discipline Sunshine. I also made sure that Sunshine knew she had her own food, her own eating area, her own treats, etc.and I made sure that triggering moments like that were well supervised and the dogs were separate. It worked out well. Daisy doesn’t do that anymore. One of the biggest triggers was other people (my mom, mostly) feeding them from her plate. They almost always got into a shouting match from that. I told mom to stop and the way they sounded finally got her to stop. She was afraid they were going to bite her or each other. Duh!

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